We have just returned from our second year in a row at the Palace, and we were not disappointed. Last year my fiance and I went in October and met 6 new friends from the US and Canada. We all had such a great time that we returned this year together for another great week. What follows are all the details I can think of to tell you about the Palace, and my own little tips for having a great DR vacation.
First, be aware that some people can have a bad time ANYWHERE, even in paradise. You will read bad reviews of every hotel in Punta Cana and here's why: it's not the USA. The food is different, the people are different, the standard of service is different. If you want McNuggets, stay home. The Barcelo resorts are a huge chain based in Spain. They are world-known for excellence, but they are EUROPEAN. There is lunchmeat at breakfast and the sausages are not sausages at all.....have an open mind and enjoy some new things!
Hotel: It is excellent. Beautifully landscaped and immaculately maintained, it is a joy to visit. They rake the beach every morning (because of seagrass washup.....easy to tell where Barcel property ends). The rooms are fine, kept very clean. There is that musty smell you get everywhere in the Carribbean....there's only so much an air conditioner can do against that humidity level. It doesn't bother me at all, but bring a nice scented candle if you can't bear any damp smell. We had no trouble with bugs either year, though there were more mosquitoes out at dinner this year than last. The maid service is somewhat random.....we had normal service daily with a clean room and fresh towels, and one night we got a turn-down.....one of our buddies got a pretty heart-shaped towel arrangement with flowers for no known reason one night. We always take little gifts for the maids (kids toys, makeup and other things they just can't get down there) and have never had any trouble. There are occasional lapses in communication with the front desk...our friends were given a room at check-in which was obviously not ready at all...still a mess from the last guests. They were upset, but the maid came right over and said she would clean it right away, which she did while our friends napped in our room. That's an incident which one of those "never happy" folks would get rabid about and say that the hotel is horrible....but we just asked the maid politely to clean the room and everything was fine. Your vacation is what you make it. The minibar is fully stocked and included in your plan, so enjoy. There's also a nice little safe in the room for your important stuff.
Pool: Outstanding....completely spotless every day. There's a swim-up pool bar at the Palace which is lovely on a hot day. They will try to make whatever drinks you ask for, even if they don't know how.
Beach: You have to see it to believe how beautiful it is. Really. I've been to Jamaica and the Bahamas and they wish they had a beach like this. Marred only by those most inconsiderate of people: smokers who think the whole beach is their ashtray. But they rake every morning, so it stays cleaner than any other beach. There are roped-off areas for swimming and snorkelling so the passing speedboats don't decapitate you. There isn't a lot of underwater activity in the snorkelling areas, but we did see many fish, eels, and one of our members got a little too "up-close" with a stingray.
Service: I love the Dominican people. The servers and bartenders live on-site and work very long days. Their families live in a little town about an hour away and they get home once a month or so to see them...it's a real honor for them to work at the resort and they are proud of it. Most of them speak only Spanish, so it's worth it so figure out a few key phrases (like, where's the bathroom, and PLEASE AND THANK YOU), but all the menus are in English (and German and French), so it's no problem. They are very eager to please and think it's just great if you make any attempt at all to say anything in Spanish. I know a little, and had great time "chatting" with a few of our servers. Our regular breakfast waitress got quite upset with me for getting my own juice in the morning....she really wanted to get it for me. That's just how they are.
Food: It's plentiful and good, if sometimes unrecognizable. There are something like 15 restaurants all together (since at the Palace you also have access to the faciilities of the Beach, Caribe (formerly Garden), Casino and Golf resorts). We ate at most of them, skipping the other buffets. Breakfast is great, with make-fresh smoothies and omlettes to order, and a wonderful selection of fresh breads. And I am forever ruined for all other orange juice after the dominican juice. Lunch and dinner can be at the buffets or any of the sit-down restaurants. We especially loved the shrimp stew at Rincon Dominicana, the pizzas at Los Pinos and the Chataubriand at Chez Palace (an upgrade to the all-in package, well worth it). If you don't like what you're given, then just pick something else...there's no limit to the number of entrees or appetizers or desserts you can have. The food is all prepared with bottled water, as are the drinks, and they give you bottled water in your minibar in the room. Do not go near the tap water....do not even rinse your toothbrush in it. You will be very sorry, but if you do, remember that Metronidazole is an over-the-counter medicine down there available right at the pharmacy and it kills all the evil things that wait in the tap.
Other stuff: I went horseback riding this year and had a great time. I am always leery in places like that.....sometimes the horses are so skinny that I feel like they ought to be riding me. At the Barcelo, they were fat and happy, and genuinely seemed to enjoy our lovely gallop down the beach as much as I did. We went scuba diving again and I cannot reccommend NEPTUNO DIVE highly enough (www.neptunodive.com). They are a PADI 5 star (highest rating) shop just north of the Palace...not even a 5 minute walk. They are wonderful for beginners, very patient and kind, and we took an amazing excursion to Catalina Island which involved a horrifying bus ride through town but was well worth it for the amazing wall dive at the island. The home reef at Punta Cana is not the greatest in the sea....but there is plenty of life to keep you peeking under coral overhangs to see who might be hiding there. The Barcelo resort employs Scuba Caribe as their home dive center and their reputation is good, but my heart is forever with Neptuno and I strongly reccommend any diver going to any hotel in Bavaro Beach to dive with them.
Remember to keep your green tourist card to give back at the end of your trip, and remember to take a bottle of water to the airport with you (it's hot and the water there is overpriced), and remember to smile and enjoy. We love the Palace and will always return to it anytime we are in Punta Cana. If you want more information or to view our MANY pictures, please go to www.drewvogel.com and click on "photo gallery", then "vacations" then "Punta Cana". If you want specific questions answered, then feel free to write to me personally at [email protected] and I will get back to you. Have a wonderful vacation!